Irish Coffee, a beloved cocktail made with coffee, Irish whiskey, cream and sugar, is the ideal winter pick-me-up. The story goes, Joe Sheridan, a local chef, invented this cocktail to comfort chilly airline passengers at Foynes Port in Limerick, Ireland in the winter of 1943. The drink soon became the airport’s signature item and was brought to San Francisco’s Buena Vista Cafe by Stanton Delaplane, an American travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Now you can enjoy this boozy coffee treat without travelling to Ireland or visiting chilly San Francisco. We spoke with the bartender manager at White Horse about how they make this classic cocktail and what makes Irish whiskey special.
To begin with, whiskey is a distilled spirit made from a malted grain mash usually a combination of barley or rye. The mash is then distilled, sometimes more than once, and aged in barrels, which impart different flavors, for at least three years. Irish whiskey hails from Ireland, of course, but beyond that doesn’t have a single unifying characteristic – they can be fiery, smooth, peaty or mellow.
“With every category of whiskey, there’s an exception,” said Brett Chovan-Hahn, bar manager at White Horse.
Currently, there are less than fifteen Irish distilleries and the largest three – Old Bushmills, New Midleton Distillery (which makes Jameson) and Cooley Distillery – have the most brand recognition. Lately, new distilleries are popping up but many are having a hard time competing with aged whiskeys because they have not been in business long enough. In the next few years, these distilleries will be the ones to watch, predicts Chovan-Hahn.
“There’s an endless amount of information,” said Chovan-Hahn. “No one whiskey is better than the other – they’re just different.”
Whiskey is a fairly versatile spirit and is enjoyed on the rocks, straight up or in cocktails. One of the most popular whiskey cocktails is Irish Coffee. This warming, smooth drink is the perfect answer to chilly weather and provides a balance of flavors. Chovan-Hahn adds that the combination of mellow whiskey and bold coffee with the perfect amount of cream allows you to taste a bit of everything in one sip.
White Horse makes their Irish Coffee with Intelligentsia coffee, a whiskey of your choice, shot of Bailey’s for sweetness and a cap of chantilly cream. The whiskey tames the strong coffee and the rich cream adds an indulgent later to this sipping cocktail. Even non-coffee drinkers will appreciate this comforting cocktail. Chovan-Hahn adds that some people customize the drink with Kahlua or other cream liqueurs but that Irish whiskey is the true foundation of the drink.
“We’re lucky to have this variety [of whiskeys] at our fingertips – we can really educate people on new flavors,” he said.
White Horse stocks over 150 varieties of whiskey and has more on the way – at the time of this writing, the bar managers were taste testing a new whiskey to add to the collection. But, when asked if there’s a “introduction” whiskey to start guests off with, Chovan-Hahn replied that it all depends on who’s drinking.
“We consider [White Horse] a craft whiskey bar. We treat the spirit with the same respect as the guest and help them find something they really want to drink,” he said.
If you’re in the mood for whiskey but not the kick of an Irish Coffee, consider their soon-to-be signature drink, The Smartass. This cocktail combines a housemade Guinness stout syrup with Tullamore Dew, lemon juice, honey and spanked mint.
But, when in doubt, ask the bartender.
White Horse is located at 41 South De Lacey Avenue. Call (626) 583-9013 or visit whitehorsepasadena.com for more infomration.